Friday, October 16, 2009

My Writing Process

This is a long post, so skip if you're not actually interested in my writing process.
Po recently asked me about my creative writing process. It made me think about how I actually go about writing articles and stories, and the frightening realisation that I don't actually have a set method.

Ja, I know, you'd think that someone who earns a living as a writer would actually have a system. But for the most part, I just sit at my desk/on the sofa and start working on the paid commercial work, and when I've finished the day's quota and I have some time, I write the creative stuff. So this process will be as illuminating for me as I hope it will be for you:-)

So how does it all evolve?

1. Where I Write - I don't have a specific place I have to be in order for the words to come. I do have a home office but I also spend a lot of time sitting on my living-room sofa and in the garden, and go to the Mugg & Bean at the nearest mall.

2. Sounds and smells - I don't ever play music when I'm working, unless the CD has something to do with work. Music souns like noise to me then, and it's very irritating, which is not good for creativity. But I do regularly play movies/DVDs while I'm writing [P.S. Harry Porter and the Goblet of Fire while writing today]. It feels like company. And I don't mind having people around, even kids playing, as long they don't talk to me while I work.

3. The Writing Tools - I need my laptop and Internet access when I work, and can't imagine working without them. I also have a big flash notebook, where I write stuff when I'm inspired creatively speaking.

4. Research - Whether it's an article or piece of fiction, doing some kind of research is crucial for my story writing process. I also interview people in the industry I'm writing about so I can make the story feel real. I do the interviews in person, by phone or email, depending on the preference of the person I'm interviewing. However, when I don't much about the subject, I prefer to do the interview by email, because then the people write down whatever they want to say, and I can't misunderstand/misinterpret it when it's in black and white.

5. The thinking process - Sometimes a story comes fully formed, and all I need to do is pull the threads of it together. But sometimes, I have to think through the whole to decide where the story starts and what I want to say. I usually spend this time doing manual labour - home renovation task /working in my garden/sweeping the yard/scrubbing floors etc.

6. The first draft - Once I have an idea of the story I want to tell, I start drafting it as a word document in my laptop. No, don't usually outline, unless I'm really struggling with the story (and for me, that usually means I'm not interested in the story/I don't have enough information to get started/the issue is very sensitive and I'm trying to tread carefully and not doing a good job of it). The writing is really instinctual - I follow the story, regularly referring to my notes and interviews and research material. The process is interrupted by short walks to stretch my legs, meals etc.

I do have one eccentricity: I don't take phone calls when I write. My clients generally email me and I respond almost instantly, whereas I don't check my voicemail messages. My landline asks all business contacts NOT to leave a message, and to email me, giving them my email address. But explaining why I don't deal well with phones is another post altogether. But suffice it to say, I also find having to answer phone calls very distracting, which affects productivity.

7. Edit and rewrite - Once I have finished the first draft of the story, the hard part begins: reading it, cutting, moving things, adding more details to the story, choosing a way to make my points, strengthening sentences and paragraphs and generally making sure it flows better. The rewrites and edits happen more than once for works for fiction and longers pieces.

8.Review - After doing edits and rewrites a couple of times, I sometimes lose all perspective on the story, and start to feel that the whole thing sucks and I'm a terrible writer...and I should just call my editor and tell her she made a mistake by hiring me and can she please take the job back? Enter my friend Christelle Du Toit, who's a journalist. I cry on her shoulder, she tells me I'm being silly, I email the story to her and she goes through with a fine tooth comb and mercilessly cuts whatever doesn't work for her. She sends the story back to me, and I do final polishing and send it back to her. [I do the same thing for Christelle, and she reads her scripts for her news stories and features to me].

9. If it's non-fiction, I send story to another copy editor - He's my gatekeeper, and makes sure that my non-fiction pieces conform to editorial guidelines, and tweaks what needs to be tweaked.

Anyhoo, that's it in the nutshell.

P.S. The review portion of the proces is not included when I blog, as this type of writing is a more instant process and is usually about me and what I think/feel.

Question: Do you have a writing process which you follow when you write/blog? And what little eccentricities do you have?


Janet Grace Riehl said...


This is fascinating stuff. Especially since you both "write for hire" (USA phrase--do you use it there?) and also write creatively.

I'm sure the discipline you exert for your professional work spills over into your creative writing routine.

Janet Riehl

Damaria Senne said...

@Janet - thanks for linking to this article. Much appreciated.

po said...

Awesome post! Thank you. It is great to see into the life of a "real" writer. Do you ever use online dictionaries or thesauruses? I am doing a poetry writing course and find them very useful.

So you don't write plans? I am like that too!

Damaria Senne said...

@po - I use an online Thesaurus when I do rewrites and edits, and am looking for a word that better expresses what I want to say. The dictionary? Only when a more complex word came to mind first, and I need to find a simpler word that better expresses what I want. I tend to write very simply. Part of it is the nature of my commercial projects, which tend either be educational or if they high-tech, need me to "say it in English:-)".

Natacha said...

I am just not a writer. I would love to be able to sit down and actually write a meaningfull post oneday.

Tamara said...

I don't ever have a plan. But I do have "things that sometimes work for me". Like I need to write down an idea when it's fresh. Whether that's on the back of a till slip in the car or on my laptop in my study. And I don't reread a story until the next day. I find it gives me better perspective.

Copyright Notice

With the exception of entries specifically credited to individual authors, the content on this blog is copyrighted by Damaria Senne and may not be reprinted without permission.